Bile Duct Obstruction & Biliary Surgery

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A bile duct obstruction refers to a blockage of the bile ducts, tubes that transport bile from the liver to the small intestine by way of the gallbladder and pancreas. Depending on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause, biliary surgery may be needed in order to clear the obstruction or even to remove the gallbladder. Options include both open surgery and minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery.

Understanding Biliary Disease

A biliary obstruction is a serious condition. If left untreated, it can be life-threatening. In order to understand why, you must first understand what a bile duct is and how it functions.

Bile is essential to digestion. A green or yellow-brown fluid secreted by your liver, stored in your gallbladder, and released into your small intestine, its job is to digest and absorb fats, as well as to flush waste products from your system.

Serious problems can occur when the liver is unable to produce bile, or when the tubes that transport it become blocked. Diseases of the bile duct include everything from cancer to PBC (Primary Biliary Cirrhosis), a possible autoimmune disorder that causes the gradual destruction of the liver and bile ducts.

The Culprits Behind Bile Duct Problems

A number of conditions can cause a bile duct blockage. They include:

Gallbladder Stone s – The most common culprits are gallstones, small pieces of cholesterol or bile that form in the gallbladder. Typically benign and asymptomatic, they can sometimes cause painful obstructions that require immediate removal.

Bile Duct Stones – Most gallstones are small enough to pass through the bile ducts without causing problems. In some instances, they can get stuck, creating an obstruction within the bile duct itself.

Bile Duct Cancer – A rare but serious condition, cancer of the bile duct can also lead to blockage. Cancer cells can appear anywhere within the biliary system, but often they form:

  • In the liver
  • In the bile duct near the liver
  • In the bile duct near the small intestine

Why Biliary Surgery ?

Surgery is the standard treatment for a blocked bile duct. Doctors typically advise patients with painful gallstones to seek immediate treatment. That’s because a blockage can cause a dangerous infection or a buildup of bilirubin that eventually leads to chronic liver disease. More often than not, surgeons will perform a cholecystectomy—a procedure which involves the removal of the gallbladder.

Surgery may also be an option for patients who suffer from cancer, as long as they have a reasonable chance of recovering from the operation. Surgery may involve a widening of the duct or even removal of some or part of the surrounding organs.

Understanding the Risks

Most surgeries are relatively safe, particularly when performed using minimally invasive techniques. That being said, there are risks. They include:

  • Infection around or in an incision
  • General anesthesia risks
  • Internal bleeding
  • Injury to the bile duct, small intestine, or liver
  • Bile leakage


Surgery to treat cancer can be more serious, depending on how far it has progressed and how much of the surrounding organs need to be removed.

Learn More and Schedule an Appointment

The Surgery Group of LA uses state-of-the-art surgical techniques to treat biliary disorders. Our multi-disciplinary team of surgeons provides expert, personalized care to each of our patients. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians. We’ll discuss your condition and do what we can to create a customized treatment plan that fits your needs and comfort level.

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